Message From Abroad

with Maartje van Rijswijk

When asking someone what they think of the college life in the USA common thoughts are beer-pong, red cups, sororities and fraternities, and huge college dormitories. However, there is a completely different side to it that only a select few get to experience and not many outsiders know of: college sports.

Everybody knows that the sports-culture in the United States is like no other. Having finished high school in the USA, it was time to decide whether or not to stay or to return back to The Netherlands and attend the university there. I played field hockey and wanted to continue playing at a high competitive level during my studies, and so my decision was easily made: stay in the United States and play hockey.

Because attending college is very expensive, and a lot of people can’t afford it, many parents push their children to play sports and if they excel they can be one of the circa 25,000 students and receive a scholarship of up to around $50,000 per year to play sports for their respected university. This is one of the big reasons the sports-culture there is so dominant and very competitive.

Knowing my parents were planning to leave after my first year, the only way I could stay was if I received a full scholarship, meaning all expenses covered. The recruiting process for this is something most Dutch people are unfamiliar with, as was my family.

So it started. In my fifth year of high school I visited many universities, all showing interest in wanting me to play for their team. As a 16 year-old one can imagine a completely new world opening up. Many weekends were spent on the road figuring out what would be the best fit, not only for hockey, but also academically. I visited Duke University and fell in love. The next step towards attending college was complete, now all I had to do was pass my exams and graduate!

Being a student-athlete is an experience of a lifetime. Instead of coming to school with everyone else at the end of August, we started practicing three weeks earlier in preparation for the upcoming season. This was great as a freshmen (first year students), being able to adapt and get comfortable with the university. You also got a chance to meet the other fall sports’ new athletes, as they were there all of August, too. When in season, which for hockey was every fall semester, you spend more time on the practice field than at home. We practiced every day and on Thursday we would leave to wherever we played that weekend, often moving practice to avoid traffic or catch a flight. Games were on Friday and Sunday, which was when you would return home. This meant missing two days of classes, but also times where for three weeks straight you were only home Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

We visited many great cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia and always stayed in the nicest hotels. It was anything but the typical college-student’s life. However, classes still went on and it was your own responsibility to stay on task. This often meant studying on bus or plane rides and a never-ending cycle of playing catch-up. All in all, it asked a lot of time management and energy, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

Work hard, play hard. This is something every student-athlete is aware of. Since you are all in the same boat and lead similar lives the different athletic teams often tend to be close. The 400 athletes at my school was a tight-knit group and when not “in season” you could always find us attending the same events and parties. It is comparable to the study- and student organizations we have in The Netherlands but then less formal. We also all lived together. Freshmen lived in dormitories with the other freshmen athletes, and upperclassmen lived in houses off-campus. My house had six field hockey players, and five houses down there was another “hockey house” with four other teammates. The same was for the other teams, and we all lived close by. For example, in my street there was at least one hockey, soccer, lacrosse, golf, and swimming house.

It was a great four years of my life, and an experience no one can ever take away from me. It shaped me not only as a player, but as a person as well. It wasn’t easy, but very well worth it.